Ekow N. Yankah says his black children and my white children maybe can’t be friends because white people don’t carry the trust card.
Yankah, a law professor at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, dug a bitter racial moat in a New York Times op-ed essay that put a provocative idea into play: Don’t trust white people.
The essential sentiment of “Can My Children Be Friends With White People?” is this: “Real friendship is impossible without the ability to trust others, without knowing that your well-being is important to them.”
The golden thread that runs through Yankah’s essay is Donald Trump, and the (mostly white) people who support him. Yankah uses that as justification for not trusting white people, but doesn’t acknowledge that Trump’s acolytes amount to maybe one-third of the American people. From that minority, he conjures a distrust of the majority.
Yankah’s disturbing pessimism is surprising, given what he describes as a “diverse and happy childhood” in a Midwestern college town, free of serious racial trauma.
Admittedly, racial relations are worse now than in recent years — and it was getting worse before Trump.
Those who hoped — as I did — that the election of an African American president would be a racial salve were proven wrong.
Although Yankah’s headline was attention-grabbing, a close reading of the essay shows him wavering back and forth across the line of possible friendship.
He writes that he has white friends, and that “even in Donald Trump’s America I have not given up on being friends with all white people.”
But they are not your friends “if you are in danger and they disappear,” Yankah told me in an interview Tuesday. “Racial friendships are difficult.”
Whites have a history of being unfair, he writes, and if Yankah teaches his children that white people enslaved their ancestors, that is truth. But as a matter of intellectual honesty he also should say that white people ended slavery at the cost of almost 400,000 Union lives.
In the civil rights era of the early 1960s, white people named Viola Liuzzo and Andrew Goodman and Michael Shwerner — and others — died trying to help black people achieve equality.
Heather Heyer, a white woman, was killed by auto in Charlottesville while battling white nationalists in August.
Yankah knows all this, yet he writes as if white people are a monolith wholeheartedly devoted to Trump.
On the left side of the political spectrum is found a spreading stain that seeks to race-shame white people. In the caution to his children, Yankah has endorsed that.
“I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible,” Yankah writes. There is nothing especially new about this, he told me. African American children “were always taught to be wary around white people.”
My kids — who had black friends when they were growing up because we chose to buy a home in an integrated neighborhood — were not taught to be wary, but they didn’t grow up with the weight of racism on their backs.
Nor with parents telling them to be cautious of people because of the color of their skin.